Three jars dating some 3,600 years in the past were found in Israel at the ancient city of Meggido, the site where the Bible predicts will witness the final battle of history, Armageddon. The jars contained traces of vanilla, a spice that heretofore had been known to have originated in Central America. According to historical sources, it was first brought to Europe in the early 1500s, along with chocolate, turkeys, and maize. Since then, vanilla has been propagated commercially in Madagascar, the island nation off the coast of southern Africa in the early 1800s. It is also cultivated in Indonesia.

A set of funerary jars, deposited as an offering in a tomb, were discovered near the famous site of Meggido, above the plain of Jezreel and ancient Esdraelon, in the north of Israel. By analyzing the residues found in the jar, archaeologists were surprised to find traces of vanilla. "We did not expect such a discovery in the Levant of 3600 years ago," commented Israel Finkelstein, an archaeologist at Tel Aviv University.

It was in 2016 that Israeli archaeologists unearthed this important burial of a high-ranking family (tomb 50) in Meggido, which was occupied for nearly 7000 years. The Book of Revelation in the Bible cites Armageddon as the place where the forces of good and evil will do battle at the end of time. Inside a vaulted burial chamber dating back to 1600 B.C, archaeologist found the remains of nine people, including three individuals surrounded by precious adornments - including a gold torque. 

Analysis of the pottery, based on chromatography and mass spectrometry, found -- in addition to olive oil -- vanillin and 4-hydroxybenzaldehyde, which are two of the main chemical components of vanilla. This raises doubts about what has heretofore been the assumption of  archaeo-botanists (experts on plant origins) that vanilla originated in the Americas. Vanilla is a pod produced by a tropical lianascent orchid, of which there are hundreds of species around the world. The discovery may indicate that long before the European discovery of the New World, people were able to extract the aromatic spice from orchid species other than those that were eventually discovered in the Americas by Spanish conquistadores. 

This is what is suggested by Vanessa Linares, an archaeologist at Tel Aviv University, who presented her hypothesis at the meeting of the American Schools of Oriental Research (ASOR) in Denver in November. She suggests that three species of vanilla could have been responsible for the one detected at Megiddo: "One from East Africa (V. polylepsis Summerh), the other from India (V. albidia Blume), and the third from south-east Asia (V.undiflora JJ Sm)." Linares believes that some variety of vanilla or perhaps vanillin-scented oils may have reached Meggido by way of caravans on trade routes from Africa and Asia. "In the Middle East, the people of the Bronze Age had much more contact with distant destinations than previously thought," says the archaeologist. She suggests that vanilla would have come via Mesopotamia -- modern-day Iraq -- and may have been used for ritual or embalming purposes. 

Meggido was continuously occupied from the 6th millennium before Christ until its total  abandonment under the Persians in the 5th century after Christ. Vanilla is the second-most expensive spice in the world, after saffron.
 

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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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